Nelson Rodríguez and Veljko Paunovic introduced their second significant player signing in two weeks time on Tuesday, announcing that forward Michael de Leeuw had been inked to a three-year deal through 2018 with a club option for 2019.
As Rodríguez alluded to in the club’s formal press release, de Leeuw -- whose surname is Dutch for 'lion' -- is an athletic presence and a proven finisher, having deposited 46 goals in 117 matches with Dutch side FC Groningen, where he played three-and-a-half seasons alongside current Fire centerback Johan Kappelhof.
“I spoke with Johan a number of times, he said good things about Chicago, about the club, about the fans, the people around the city, it made me happy to come,” de Leeuw said. “He’s said it’s great, it’s different than the competition here, you travel far but still overall the conditions are similar to what we know here.”
Like Khaly Thiam, who joined the Men In Red May 4 immediately following the conclusion of his season in the Hungarian first division, de Leeuw is just removed from the end of his 2015-16 campaign after making his 37th and final appearance of the year for FC Groningen Sunday in the second leg of a Europa League playoff match vs. Heracles. He entered as a substitute in the 38th minute but put in a full shift as the game required 30 minutes of extra time to determine an aggregate winner.
“What a crazy game, with the other team scoring in injury time, so we went to extra time, it was a tough game,” he said. “But we lost so now we have some goodbye [events] this week, and then my time with Groningen is done. It’s also good for me to take a week or so of holiday, because then I will be fresh when I start.”
In addition to Kappelhof, de Leeuw -- who has vacationed in California, Las Vegas and Miami but has yet to experience Chicago -- is joining a Fire locker room that also features fellow Dutchman John Goossens, whom de Leeuw says he knows well as a player and is looking forward to getting to know personally as well.
The weeks ahead will provide de Leeuw ample opportunity to get to know all of his future teammates, on and off the field. He’s in the process of finalizing plans for his arrival into Chicago, where MLS’ hiatus during Copa America Centenario will aid the timeline for his transition into the side, and will be eligible to make his debut for the club after July 4.
“In Holland they know me as a player who works hard and is dangerous in the box, I’m good in scoring areas,” de Leeuw said. “My plan with the team is to look at what we can achieve this season, but still I’m coming in the middle so first I have to adapt, I have to know everyone, everyone has to know me, what I like on the pitch and vice versa.”